It can be embarrassing to ask a colleague for help — everyone is supposed to handle their tasks independently, right? Not true, according to a recent New York Times article by Tim Herrera. In fact, most people vastly overestimate how much of an inconvenience it is to ask a coworker for help — Herrera cites a 2008 study from Cornell that found “subjects underestimated by as much as 50 percent the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help.”
So how do you help others help you?
First, it’s important to make sure the person you need help from actually knows about it, according to Herrera. “Thanks to a phenomenon called ‘inattentional blindness,’ we’re programmed to have the ability to take in and process only so much information, ignoring the rest,” writes Herrera. So even if you feel like your colleague is blatantly ignoring your cries for help, your needs might not be so obvious to them since they have a full plate, too.
Second — this might seem like the most obvious, but also the most difficult part of the exercise — openly ask for help. “Otherwise your potential helper might fall victim to ‘audience inhibition,’ Herrera writes, “…which can prevent people from offering help because they doubt their own intuition that you need help.”
Third, be clear about your request and why you’re specifically asking that person for help. According to Herrera, “this will make them feel invested in your success and actually want to help, rather than feeling obligated to help.”
And finally, Herrera suggests checking to make sure the person you’re asking is actually available to help. If you ask someone who is already overworked, they might not be quick to help you in the future. But if you’re considerate of their time? Help will be on the way whenever you need it.